Archive for Books

Open Access Handbooks in Linguistics!

A couple of weeks ago, I wrung my hands on Facebook over the proliferation of commercial publishers' Handbooks of Linguistics. These are usually priced out of individuals' budgets, being sold mostly to university libraries, and the thousands of hours of work poured into them by dedicated linguists are often lost behind a paywall, inaccessible to many of the people who would most like to read them.

That post prompted a flood of urgent discussion; it seemed like this was a thought that was being simultaneously had around the world. (Indeed, Kai von Fintel had posted the identical thought about six months prior; probably that butterfly was the ultimate cause of the veritable hurricane  that erupted on my feed.)

Long story short, a few weeks later we now have a proto-editorial board and are on to the next steps of identifying a venue and a business model for the series. Please check out our announcement below the fold, and follow along on our blog for updates as the series develops!

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Chinese proverbs

A frequent topic of our Language Log posts has been about how best to learn Chinese, e.g.:

"How to learn to read Chinese " (5/25/08)

"How to learn Chinese and Japanese " (2/17/14)

"The future of Chinese language learning is now " (4/5/14)

Two things I have stressed:  1. take advantage of properly parsed Pinyin or other phonetic annotation and transcription; 2. utilize the full resources of digital, electronic, hand-held, and online dictionaries and other devices to assist and enhance the learning of reading and writing.

Whenever a well-designed, efficient pedagogical tool appears, I am always pleased because it means more rapid acquisition and less suffering for students.

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Bad sex writing: really really bad

I'm pleased to be able to announce on Language Log the winner of the Literary Review's 2015 Bad Sex in Fiction Award. The award went to the singer Morrissey for his debut novel List of the Lost. And it seems to have been honestly earned. The judges cited this sentence:

Eliza and Ezra rolled together into the one giggling snowball of full-figured copulation, screaming and shouting as they playfully bit and pulled at each other in a dangerous and clamorous rollercoaster coil of sexually violent rotation with Eliza's breasts barrel-rolled across Ezra's howling mouth and the pained frenzy of his bulbous salutation extenuating his excitement as it whacked and smacked its way into every muscle of Eliza's body except for the otherwise central zone.

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Global imaginary Chinese

Two or three days ago, I received the following call for papers:

"CFP The Chinese Script and its Global Imaginary" (H-Asia 10/7/15)

This is for a conference that will be held in New Zealand on April 1, 2016.  Perhaps they do not celebrate April Fools' Day in New Zealand.  Otherwise, I would have wondered whether this were some sort of hoax.

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Orient(al[ism]) in East Asian languages

Cortney Chaffin writes:

Today I've been corresponding over email with a colleague of mine at XYUniversity who organized an exhibition of Korean art to open tomorrow. Yesterday he sent out a description of the exhibit in which he used the phrases "oriental landscape painting" (in contrast to Western painting) and "oriental sensitivity" to describe the aim of the artist (to demonstrate "oriental sensitivity" in painting). I don't allow my students to use the term "oriental" in my art history classes, not only because it is a complex and loaded term, but I have first-hand experience of it being used as a racial slur in the U.S., so it makes me uncomfortable.

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Literate programming and reproducible research

From the Scientific and Technical Achievements section of last week's Academy Awards:

To Matt Pharr, Greg Humphreys and Pat Hanrahan for their formalization and reference implementation of the concepts behind physically based rendering, as shared in their book Physically Based Rendering.  Physically based rendering has transformed computer graphics lighting by more accurately simulating materials and lights, allowing digital artists to focus on cinematography rather than the intricacies of rendering. First published in 2004, Physically Based Rendering is both a textbook and a complete source-code implementation that has provided a widely adopted practical roadmap for most physically based shading and lighting systems used in film production.

I believe that this is the first time that an Academy Award has been given to a book. And this (ten-year-old) book was written in a way that deserves to be better known and more widely imitated.

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The Franco-Prussian Readings

Wicky Tse and Cheng Fangyi both sent me this photograph taken in a bookstore located in the central business district of Xinjiekou, Nanjing, China:

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The Gladwell pivot

Below is a guest post by Mark Seidenberg on Malcolm Gladwell's recent book, David and Goliath, which promotes the idea that apparent disadvantages are often actually advantages, and in particular suggests that dyslexia might be be Good For You.


This piece is commentary on a chapter about dyslexia in Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book. I don’t follow his work closely, and the book is being reviewed and critiqued everywhere, but I thought the chapter merited a response from somebody, like me, who studies dyslexia and works with local advocacy groups for dyslexics and their families. The chapter deserves s a line-by-line analysis; what I’ve written only mentions the main issues. The document incorporates several key points that were handed to me by Maryellen MacDonald, for which I thank her, a lot.

__________________________Mark Seidenberg
__________________________Language and Cognitive Neuroscience Lab
__________________________University of Wisconsin-Madison

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Signifying the Local

I just found out about this new book on local languages in China.  Judging from the abstract and table of contents, it looks very interesting and promising: Signifying the Local: Media Productions Rendered in Local Languages in Mainland China in the New Millennium. The publisher's blurb:

In Signifying the Local, Jin Liu examines contemporary cultural productions rendered in local languages and dialects (fangyan) in the fields of television, cinema, music, and literature in Mainland China. This ground-breaking interdisciplinary research provides an account of the ways in which local-language media have become a platform for the articulation of multivocal, complex, and marginal identities in post-socialist China. Viewed from the uniquely revealing perspective of local languages, the mediascape of China is no longer reducible to a unified, homogeneous, and coherent national culture, and thus renders any monolithic account of the Chinese language, Chineseness, and China impossible.

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The Story of Ain't

Next Tuesday, David Skinner's The Story of Ain't is coming out in a new paperback edition, with a new epilog. I'm happy to have this occasion to post an enthusiastic recommendation: You should immediately run out (virtually or physically) and buy this book, in any of its editions.

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Cupertinos in the spotlight

About seven years ago, in March 2006, I wrote a Language Log post about "the Cupertino effect," a term to describe spellchecker-aided "miscorrections" that might turn, say, Pakistan's Muttahida Quami Movement into the Muttonhead Quail Movement. It owes its name to European Union translators who had noticed the word cooperation getting replaced with Cupertino by a spellchecker that lacked the unhyphenated form of the word in its dictionary. Since then, I've had occasion to hold forth on the Cupertino effect in various venues (OUPblog, Der Spiegel, Radiolab, the New York Times, etc.). Now, Cupertinos are getting yet another flurry of publicity, thanks to a new book by the British tech writer Tom Chatfield called Netymology.

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Once Bookstore

This beautiful establishment in Amoy (Xiamen) 厦门 (facing Taiwan across the strait that separates the PRC from the ROC) is perhaps the only pro-democracy (private) bookstore in the People's Republic of China — I applaud its moral courage. In this article about Once Bookstore, we find the following photograph of a sign in front of the store and the cover of a book that is most likely sold in it:

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How to be ignored (?)

Last year, Alexander Clark and Shalom Lappin published a book under the title Linguistic Nativism and the Poverty of the Stimulus. The background of the book was a course on "The Poverty of the Stimulus, Machine Learning, and Language Acquisition", which the authors gave at the LSA Summer Institute at Stanford in 2007. In the preface, the authors thank an impressive collection of linguists, computer scientists, psychologists, and philosophers "for helpful discussion of many of the issues that we address in this monograph".

An hour-long discussion between the authors and Chris Cummins was just released as a podcast in the New Books in Language section of the New Books Network. Cummins' online intro to the podcast opens with this bit of snark:

In linguistics, if a book is ever described as a “must read for X”, it generally means that (i) it is trenchantly opposed to whatever X does and (ii) X will completely ignore it. Alexander Clark and Shalom Lappin, Linguistic Nativism and the Poverty of the Stimulus (Wiley-Blackwell, 2011) is described, on its dust-jacket, as a “must read for generative linguists”.  Apparently generative linguists have so far taken the hint.  This is a great pity, as this book is not only very pertinent, but also succeeds in eschewing most of the polemical excess that tends to engulf us all in this field.

Richard Sproat, who contributed the cited jacket blurb, quipped in an email that "Apparently I did you a disservice by saying it was a must read".

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